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Another Season Has Come and Gone… A few thoughts on pitchers, catchers, innings and managers

Another Season Has Come and Gone… A few thoughts on pitchers, catchers, innings and managers

Rogers Hornsby once said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

So, before the year ends and the 2022 season becomes a distant memory, let’s take a look back at some statistics, achievements and stories that made this season special.

A pair of aces. Justin Verlander and Sandy Alcántara take home Cy Young Awards.

What is noteworthy this year is that Verlander of the Astros and Alcántara of the Marlins were unanimous winners in the American League and National League, respectively. When’s the last time that happened? Do the names McLain and Gibson ring a bell? Yes, not since 1968 have there been two unanimous Cy Young winners.

More than that, Verlander had missed close to two seasons, recovering from Tommy John surgery. Not only did Verlander (at age 39) post 18 wins this year, the most in the AL, but he also had an amazing 1.84 ERA, the lowest of his long career. Alcántara didn’t lead any of the NL pitching categories, but he did have six complete games (only one other MLB pitcher had three; only two had two complete games). Alcántara’s record of 14-9 was a personal high, as was his 2.28 ERA. From May through July, he tossed seven or more innings in each of 13 consecutive starts. You don’t see that very much these days.

Catch me if you can. J.T. Realmuto shows his catcher’s speed on the basepaths.

Most baseball fans probably knew very little about J.T. Realmuto until he showed up in the World Series, as catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. But here is a very surprising fact about him: He’s one of the fastest catchers in the game on the basepaths, as well as an amazing base stealer, which is quite an achievement for a catcher. In 2002, he led the Phillies in stolen bases with 21. Over the past four years, he’s had the same number of steals as the team leader over that time...Bryce Harper. Last but not least, in Game 4 of the World Series, he became the first catcher EVER to hit an inside-the-park home run in the playoffs.

The Bronx Bomber. Aaron Judge, the new AL home run king, almost gets the Triple Crown.

There were two great home run stories in 2022: Albert Pujols breaking the career 700-home-runs barrier, and Aaron Judge setting the new American League home run record with 62. Judge’s record was memorable because he broke the record long-held by former Yankee Roger Maris, who hit 61 homers in 1961...61 years ago. Judge, however, did more than break that record. He also led the AL with 131 RBI. His .311 average was just five points less than the League leader, Luis Arráez of the Twins. That’s how close he came to winning the Triple Crown.

The Dodgers had a historic 2022 season, but the ending was somewhat familiar.

The Los Angeles Dodgers had the most wins in the history of their franchise. They won 111 games, exceeding the previous number by five wins, for a franchise-record .685 winning percentage. That’s the second-most ever by a National League team. They passed the Pittsburgh Pirates, who won 109 games way back in 1909. The NL record for wins is 116, set by the Cubs in 1906. Only the AL Yankees with 114 wins in 1998 and the Seattle Mariners with 116 wins in 2001 exceed the Dodgers’ 2022 mark. Still, the Dodgers would surely trade those wins for a better performance in the playoffs. They lost in the NLDS to the Wild Card San Diego Padres...who finished 22 games behind L.A. in the NL West standings.

The 100-mph fastball isn’t rare anymore. The heat is rising on the mound.

Time was, and it doesn’t seem that long ago, that “Cuban Missile” Aroldis Chapman with his 100-mph fastball was a wonder to behold. Nowadays, that kind of speed is relatively common, and you wonder who DOESN’T throw that kind of heat. According to statisticians who track pitch speeds, in 2010 (when Chapman was a rookie), there were more than 900 pitches that reached 100 mph on the radar gun. The numbers stayed around that level for the next five years, then started their climb upward. In 2015, there were 1,948 pitches over 100 mph, the most until this season.

This past year saw a major climate change on the mound, when there were 2,767 pitches hurled at least 100 mph. Of the 61 different MLB pitchers who brought the heat, more than half of them did it at least 10 times. And we wonder why batting averages drop year to year….

Coming and going. A tale of two seasoned managers.

Finally, two managers, both in their 70s, were in the news in 2022 as the season wrapped up, for quite different reasons. One (finally) reached the pinnacle of managerial success, while the other was quietly (unceremoniously) fading from the bright lights.

Dusty Baker, 73, won his first World Series as a manager when the Astros defeated the Phillies in six games. It was his first championship ring as a skipper in three tries, after losing with the Giants in 2002 and the Astros in 2021. Baker also became the oldest manager to win a World Series. He could have chosen to retire at the height of his success. Instead, he’s coming back to lead Houston for his 26th season as a skipper.

Meanwhile, baseball said farewell to one of the greatest managers the game has ever seen: Tony La Russa. A day before he turned 78, La Russa announced he would not be returning to his managerial post with the Chicago White Sox. In 2021, he was lured out of retirement and led the White Sox to the AL Central title and a 93-69 record. This season was not going as well, and heart issues forced him to step down as manager before the season ended. Already a Hall of Fame manager (he was elected in 2014), La Russa had nothing to prove. He initially retired after winning the World Series in 2011, as the Cardinals’ manager. His return 10 years later surprised many, and he had many critics. But his legacy is intact.

Looking ahead.

The 2023 season will bring new faces, new managers, new rules and players in different uniforms. That’s the way baseball go, as Ron Washington supposedly said, and this time next year there will be more interesting stories to think back on.